The government is set to maintain tariffs on key farm products, including rice and wheat, under a large-scale regional trade deal between Asia-Pacific countries including China, according to a draft of the agreement seen Tuesday.
Under the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), Japan will retain tariffs on its five sensitive agricultural product categories — rice, beef and pork, wheat, dairy and sugar — to protect domestic farmers from a potential influx of cheap imports, the draft confirms.
The leaders of 15 out of the 16 RCEP members plan to complete the regional free trade agreement without India in an online summit meeting to be held Sunday, creating an economic bloc representing around a third of the world's gross domestic product and population, sources close to the matter said Monday.
The conclusion of the deal, cutting tariffs and establishing common rules for e-commerce, trade and intellectual property, will put an end to negotiations that were launched in 2013.
It will be the nation's first signing of a free trade framework that includes China, its biggest trading partner, and South Korea.
Under the RCEP deal, the extent of Japan's tariff reductions on agricultural imports will be sharply lower than those under its trade pacts with the European Union and the 10 other members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the draft showed.
Japan will abolish tariffs on 56% of farm products imported from China, 49% of those from South Korea and 61% of items from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Australia and New Zealand, it said.
China will gradually eliminate the 40% tariff it imposes on Japanese sake in the 21st year after the deal takes effect, while South Korea will cut its 15% tariff on the rice wine in stages until its abolition in the 15th year, the draft showed.
China will also remove its tariff on scallops from Japan, according to the document.
An online meeting of ministers from RCEP countries was held Wednesday to make preparations for the summit, with trade minister Hiroshi Kajiyama taking part from Japan.
"We are in last-minute negotiations. We are making arrangements, including the wording" of the agreement, Kajiyama told a news conference Tuesday.
RCEP groups Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, and the 10 members of ASEAN — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
India, seeking safeguards, said in November last year that it would not participate in the negotiations due to concern that opening up its market would cause its trade deficit with China to grow.
The remaining 15 RCEP members are set to make a special arrangement so that India can smoothly return to the pact in the future.
Japanese government sources said that it will be exempted from a stipulation that RCEP signatories will not accept new entrants to the framework for a certain period of time.
If agreed, the RCEP will be an economic bloc representing around a third of the world's gross domestic product and population, even without India.
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